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I am leading the reflection at our Good Friday service. I have drafted my talk and would welcome your feedback/thoughts...
What does the cross mean to you
What does the cross mean to you? Do you wear a cross? Do you ever make the sign of the cross? Have you observed how frequently the symbol of the cross is the defining image of Christians and Christianity - even our VCS logo as the cross as central to it.
Would it be odd to put an electric chair round our necks? a picture of a hangman's noose as a sticker in our cars? Maybe feature a beheading as our new church logo?
The cross was one of the cruellest forms of death reserved for rebels and traitors to the empire, designed to kill slowly, painfully, inflicting the maximum amount of public humiliation. It was a form of death that broke the body and the spirit. All to remind the population what happens when you mess with Caesar - he literally makes a mess of you.
Is the symbol and celebration of the cross a reminder not just of who died - Jesus Christ – god and man, but also the manner of man/god that is revealed in his death?
Life in death
Here we have God who chooses death. Who chooses the most public, painful and humiliating of deaths? It is not a choice that Jesus takes lightly - in the garden of Gethsemane, tired, late in the night, he spends hours questioning the choice in anguish prayer - why God, why this way, any other way, anything else, please - not once, but three times he prays in the blackness. Three times he chooses to God's way and to embrace the oncoming tide of suffering rather than run from it.
Maybe you know what that is like? To pray in the darkness, to pray exhausted, to pray fearful and alone. Questioning God, begging for a different way, any other path but the one you are on?
Maybe you are like me, more likely to run away, to try and escape pain, hide from humiliation, to fake it until i can make it. Desperately medicating my pain, denying it, papering over it, rather than facing it, too afraid of what it will cost me.
Jesus, like us, knows pain. Jesus, like us, knows what it is to be abandoned by his friends. Jesus, like us, knows what it is like to be hated, rejected, denied, mocked, tortured, laughed at, and to be judged. Unlike some of us to he freely gives up the right of reply, his right to revenge, his right to resent and hate – instead even in death he embraces love.
Finding our true humanity
In Jesus words on the cross we see his humanity and catch a reflection of our own. This was not some superman dying but flesh and blood:
"I'm thirsty" Jesus cracked and parched lips and mouth could barely speak let alone feed himself, pour himself a drink or care for himself in any way. The cross denying him the basic right to human needs – on the cross Jesus knows what it is like to be a paraplegic, to be totally dependent on others, completely vulnerable.
"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" - Jesus soul is laid bare, the anguish of his suffering he felt so utterly alone – today some of us know what it is to ask why has God abandoned us? Why does God feel so far away? Where is he? At the height of our suffering why does it feel like he is not with me?
"It is finished" - was this just the relief of approaching death, the end of the pain and suffering - or something more - a sense of closure, of the debt being paid, the price being worth it.
"Father into your hands i commit my spirit" – Just because we can’t feel God does not mean he is there or does not care and even suffer with us. With these words Jesus expresses his trust in our Father; his hope that God is there even if he can't feel him.
Suffering with those who suffer
But Jesus was not alone - we might not be suffering as he was but we may be like Jesus' mother - watching someone we love and care for go through such pain and feel powerless to do anything about it. Mary chose to her own cross experience - back at the birth of Jesus the prophet Simion in the temple foretells that her heart will be pierced.
Mary has known this moment will come all her life, maybe forgotten it at times, maybe prayed that it never would but now at the end she is there, her heart pierced as she watches her son die. She has been there for Jesus throughout his life and she will be there with him throughout his death. Sometimes love is waiting with some as they suffer, when we know we can do nothing else to be there when we would rather be anywhere else.
Giving not getting
Jesus shows us one more thing in his suffering - yes he reveals his humanity, his identification with us in our pain but he also refuses to become self absorbed in it. He is honest but not full of self pity, he is hurting but he refuses to lash out. Instead even in his death he reaches out.
Jesus asks his father to forgive the people who have done this to him - they don't know what they are doing Jesus says. They are just hurt, broken, angry, insecure, lost people, lashing out - that's why i need to die for people like these, like you and me. For those of us who seek to get ahead at the expense of others, who delight in the downfall of those hailed as the next big thing? We who are quite happy to defend our rights at the expense of others...
Jesus asks his best friend to take care of his mother but also gives his mother another son to look after and care for - giving them both a purpose and a source of comfort in the days ahead.
Finally, Jesus talks to the rebels either side of him, those who are literally are in the same boat as he is. For one of these rebels this death will be about trying to save face, trying to win back some of his lost pride by mocking Jesus along with crowd - even in his death he can't help his addiction to power, to needing to be wanted. For the other rebel, his death is the ultimate awakening - he recognises the hole that he is in and stops digging. He can't save himself, he will never be king, and he will never see Caesar fall but he will make one last chance - to give the last few remaining hours of his life to Jesus. Remember me Jesus, he asks, not like this, not in our death together but in the life I will find in and through you when we come into your kingdom.
How our bandages can become eternal badges of honour...
For as we know the story does not end here - although we still have the darkness of good Friday, the abandonment and grief of Easter Saturday we have the luxury of knowing Easter Sunday is coming. But even we cannot get to the joy and life of Easter Sunday without facing our own pain together with each other and God. Jesus reminded his disciples then and now that if we seek to save our lives we will lose them but if we lose our life in Jesus we will find it.
The resurrected Jesus, the ascended Jesus, the eternal Jesus will carry forever with him the scars on his hands and feet from the nails of the cross, the scar in his side from the thrust of the spear. The suffering and shame inflicted on him at the cross are the marks now of his glory and honour - this Jesus invites us to let him put one pierced hand around our shoulder whilst his other pierced hand is around the shoulder of our heavenly father. Jesus understands us, a compassion and empathy that comfort us and confronts us together to find our true humanity. We can choose to face the way of the cross in our own lives, the only way Jesus knew how – to surrender our will to his, to lose the right to run our lives, in order to find life.